Monday, February 21, 2011

"Come to our church, where..."

This is the message printed on a door hanger left on my door recently:
    ______ Church

    If you’re looking for the right church home, __________ is the place for you. You’ll love the friendly people, the family atmosphere, and practical preaching. An exciting kids and teen program every Sunday morning. Come home this Sunday to ___________. We hope to see you soon!

Any guesses on what denomination this might have come from?

No, not WELS.

This door hanger happens to come from a Baptist church. Notice the marketing techniques and the selling points: home, you’ll love, friendly, family, practical, exciting. There is no honesty here about a person’s desperate need caused by sin, no mention of Christ or the cross or of the urgency of hearing and believing the Gospel.

Marketing appeals like this that put a purely superficial, positive, Word-less spin on a church are common. Churches from many denominations attempt to “sell” their church as a product to the community. Perhaps one wouldn’t even expect a basic Law/Gospel message on a Baptist flyer inviting people to their church, since Baptist theology ascribes to man’s reason and will the ultimate power to choose salvation.

But one would expect to find a simple Christ-centered, Law/Gospel message inviting people to a confessional Lutheran church, because we’re not trying to market a product to the community. Our churches do not exist to provide “you” with what “you’ll love,” but instead, with the Word of God that will kill you in order to raise you back to life. Our churches should not be characterized primarily by friendliness, practicality or level of excitement. Instead, they should be known as places where the Bride of Christ gathers around Word and Table so that Christ – crucified, risen, and present – may be proclaimed.

Our message to the community is not, “Come and see how friendly we are!” or “Our church is a place where people who hate Jesus will feel right at home!” Instead, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

Now, a challenge for the reader – pastor and layman alike. Take a look at your church’s evangelism materials, signage, service folders and website. How much is marketing? How much is proclamation of Christ? Is your church portraying itself honestly, or is it trying to "sell itself"? How does your church complete the sentence, "Come to our church, where..."?

We will make an exception in this post to our normal rule of “no anonymous comments.” If you’d like to quote some material (either good or bad) from your church or from another church, then please do so anonymously, and do not include the name or location of the church. Any other comments should include your first and last name, as usual, including suggestions you may have for the wording of a flyer, service folder or website.

44 comments:

revfrsds said...

Here are some examples to get things started:

Example 1 -

You'll find warm and friendly people, a message that matters, and a Heavenly Father who waits for you with open arms. Please take the time to browse through our website and check things out. We hope we are the church or school you've been searching for, as many others just like you have already discovered.

Example 2 -

We offer worship services with life-related messages, uplifting music, and friendly people in a progressively historical church. We also have plenty of ministries for children of all ages, including a full-time Christian Day School. Check out our web site and then visit us soon!

Example 3 -
___________ started as an idea in 1999 and is now a thriving ministry that serves the neighborhoods of _________ and nearby areas.
___________ is working hard to provide relevant, substantive, thought-provoking spiritual resources. On these pages you'll find information about our services, Bible studies social activities, and much more.
If you have feedback, we'd love to hear it. If you're interested in volunteering, we have many opportunities.
And, if you're just looking for a place to meet people who share your values and interests, we think you'll find that ___________ delivers.
We're looking forward to meeting you!

Good sales pitches. But not really Christ-focused or Means of Grace-centered, in my view.

Rev. Spencer

Anonymous said...

__________is a place for everyone. A smaller, more intimate Christian community with a strong commitment to living out God's grace in our neighborhood. We are a open and hospitable group from young to old, who welcome visitors, whether life-long Christians or those newly seeking a spiritual home.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN I VISIT:

From the time you arrive at ______, you will walk into a warm and friendly environment, with people that truly enjoy being at _______. After Worship hour, stick around for friendly conversation, snacks and coffee. When you come to _________, come as you are from casual to a suit/tie or a dress. There is no dress code.

WHAT IS WORSHIP LIKE AT ________:

Our message is meant to apply to your everyday life, It comes from God's Word and our prayers allow you to leave feeling encouraged and fufilled. We offer messages geared specifically for children. When Worship Hour is over you will leave filled with Love and comfort of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

(WELS church)

What to Expect:

* Dress casually - it's not a fashion show, it's church. Just put some clothes on. If they match, even better.

* Bring the kids - Kids Connect is a safe, clean, professional and even fun environment for kids to connect with God on their level.

* Relax - the other people are just like you. They're friendly people who want to connect with God.

* Truth - Hey, you want a doctor that tells it how it is. Don't you want a church that will do the same?

Casual atmosphere - Serious faith

Anonymous said...

Casual atmosphere, serious faith.

Are you looking for a place where there's serious Bible teaching, but in an atmosphere that's casual? ____________ is a growing church community that seeks to glorify God by - "Growing in the faith, Gathering together as believers, Going to our neighbors with the gospel!"

Anonymous said...

Intrepids,
The saddest part is,even as a joke, people would consider these door hangers a coming from a WELS church. Preach Christ crucified and risen!

Scott E. Jungen

Anonymous said...

We have designed our worship services to be inspirational, relevant, and Bible-based. Each week you will enjoy upbeat and meaningful worship with quality, heart-lifting music. We aim to merge the best of the Christian's past with the best of the Church's present for a meaningful worship service that relates to both the past and the future.

Each week you will hear positive, practical messages from the Bible. Our pastor has a crafted conversational style of preaching that will not only challenge your intellect but will also touch your heart as he brings the truth of the Bible into your real world life.

We invite you to come comfortable to our worship. Bring your favorite coffee mug if you'd like. If you've rarely been to church before, or if you've found church boring and dull, give us a try at _______. We're a church where there is serious Bible teaching, but in an atmosphere that is family oriented and relaxed.

Rev. Don Pieper said...

(Christmas gift list image, with everything checked off except for "Find the Savior")

"Ready for something that keeps its value? Find Jesus this Christmas"

(church addresses and service times follow)

Rev. Don Pieper said...

Next to an image of Christ on a cross...

"Easter changes everything...at these Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Churches this Easter Sunday!"

(church addresses and service times follow)

Anonymous said...

VISION OF ______


“To establish a dynamic Christian congregation that is an inspirational magnet for every member of our community providing an opportunity to grow a meaningful personal relationship with Jesus
that makes a difference now and for eternity.”

dynamic the church is an organism, not an organization; it is all about change in people’s lives

magnet we offer various, non-threatening events through which we can connect people with God’s Word

community we seek to understand how to best reach our community and culture for Christ

grow we expect our partners to be growing in their faith through worship, discipleship and personal devotionals

now we try to answer the question, “So what?”, applying God’s truth to today’s challenges

eternity we are passionate about ministry because we take Jesus’ death and yours seriously

Anonymous said...

Each weekend at _____ you’ll find a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that is Christ-centered. A section in the middle of our service program for notes and two large screens help you make the most of the practical and relevant message.

Anonymous said...

_____ is like a family tree. The roots of the tree are planted in the soil of Christ. The trunk is the Word. The two main branches are Worship and Discipleship. The leaves are the members.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I don't even get that last one. I thought Christ was the vine and we were the branches, not Christ the soil and we the leaves.

And from which of the two "branches" does a member hang as a "leaf"? From the "branch" of worship or from the "branch" of discipleship? Or does one leaf defy all laws of botany and hang from two branches at the same time?

???????

We really need to stop makin' up stuff.

Daniel Baker said...

"Next week [. . .] is our Alternative Worship Experience. AWE is our lay-led, contemporary service. The message is more topical and apologetic rather than the usual expositional sermon. God tells us that we need to gather regularly with one another in worship. He does not dictate the form of that worship. What a blessing to be able to explore worship in a number of different ways."

Lund Family said...

Rev. Spencer,

It was too easy to Google your examples and find each of the three churches. The last example has a "Director of Worship". Is that like an ordained position? Ah well, this is an interesting exercise in identifying some potential offensive practices. But I am sure as so many Lutherans think, practice never influences doctrine. Can't happen to us in the WELS.

revfrsds said...

Yes, I suppose with very little effort we could identify each and every one of the examples. Oh well, these are the days in which we live.

As to the so-called position of Director of Worship: It used to be in the WELS, and based on solid Biblical and confessional Lutheran teaching that, "While all of a pastor's ministry centers about the preaching of the Gospel, in a sense this activity reaches its climax in the public worship services of his congregation." (Shepherd Under Christ, pg.64) Thus, in my mind, a Pastor who abrogates his personal control over the worship service is neglecting His divine Call. Simply put, he’s not doing his job! Obviously, and unfortunately, this is no longer the uniform practice in our synod. We even have a woman serving as the “Minister of Worship” in at least one WELS congregation. I, and other Pastors, believe this to be improper and disorderly.

Anonymous said...

WELS/ELS church

The opening web page says, "When you have the Shepherd, you have everything you need." Stikingly there is no available Gospel proclaimed.

An invitation to contact the pastor is listed if you have any need for immediate information.

Scanning the opening page as mentioned, one finds no scripture reference, but a slogan....
"Bring them in! Lift them up! Send them out!" It then states on another page:
"Our mission statement until January, 2003 was "As God's children, united by faith, we are committed to praising God with our worship and our Christian lives, and to use the Gospel of Jesus Christ to nurture fellow believers and to reach out to others, all to the glory of God."

While this statement is still true and at the very core of our ministry here at _______, the church leadership developed this simple statement that our friends and members could carry in their hearts as we meet throughout the week with each other and our community.

Scanning other pages, one realizes that there is, let's see, no, nada, zilch, NONE, no Gospel proclamation. No Law, No Gospel present even in a short or concise Bible reference. An oversight? Hardly.

One finds invitations to learn. One finds various lay lead and pastor lead small group studies aimed at relevant topics such as "The Truth Project" by Del Tacket, a Presbyterian ordained elder. This study promises to "discusses in great detail the relevance and importance of living the Christian worldview in daily life."

But lest we dispair, we do get a note from the pastor on this weg site and in it some promises. Our Lutheran ears perk and our hearts are warmed at the thought of the Eternal Promise that we often long for and think of. Let's look:

"I can’t tell you how glad I am that you found the ________ website. We’re trying to help folks just like you get to know us a little bit before you even make your first visit to our church.

I would like to help you to decide to take more than a virtual tour of our church to coming and visiting in person - to do that I’m going to make you some promises.

First, I promise you will be welcome. We want you to feel like you are coming to a place where no one is a stranger. Grab a cup of coffee. Sit on the sofa. Watch the announcements. Whatever you like, please make yourself at home.

Second, I promise you will learn something. It may take a moment or two for you to get used to the way I teach, but as we study God’s Word together I will make it as interesting as possible. And as God’s powerful Word is opened up to you, it is my goal for you to leave feeling as if God has touched your heart and your life on the day of your visit.

Third, I promise you will be glad you came, even if it was only to find out ________ is a nice place to visit but you won’t be calling it your church home. When you visit you will not be asked to sign anything, or join anything. I simply want to make your visit as enjoyable as possible and worth your effort of choosing to worship with us. And since I have had the opportunity to talk with many of our visitors, some who choose to continue coming and others who chose to worship elsewhere, I know our size, our worship style, our ministry goals and our facility is not for everyone. But if I fail to keep any of these promises to you and __________ is not what I say it is, then please tell me. I want to be true to my word and help _____________ to be everything we say it is."

Anonymous said...

Large WELS School and Church...

Web page shows 3 large tabs with About Us, Ministry info, Sermons and media.

No Gospel on any of those opening pages, though it may be burried somewhere in those tabs or in a down-loadable sermon.

Usually the first thing on the first page is the most important thing of what you are wanting to tell someone.

The first thing we see is:

Our mission
We help people know, trust, and love God and live joyfully for Him.
To accomplish our mission we will...
•Worship God by following and applying the biblical principles of God's truth and love.
•Study God's Word to strengthen our faith and our ability to serve the Lord, our children and families and each other.
•Serve each other, our community and beyond as we share Christ's love.

This is a Lutheran Chruch, but it could easily be a statement from any church of any denomination it seems to me. It only barely grazes at the Gospel, but does not proclaim it on this opening page. Other pages are not too promising either.

I wonder how far this pussy-footing around goes before people actually hear the law and gospel in any bold manner. I mean, that may scare someone away! Right?

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting page under their "about" tab. The main opening page is more a simple welcome page.

In the about tab we find this statement:

"We are a congregation that is grounded in God's grace. Our emphasis is on the unconditional love of our gracious God who loved us enough to send his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins.

Our Mission is to "Invite and welcome all people to worship God, grow in the Holy Spirit, and serve others in Jesus' name." We offer 7 worship services every weekend with a variety of styles and music, from the classic traditional worship to praise worship to an "edgy" service for young adults. Good Shepherd has many opportunities for all ages to grow spiritually, including outstanding children's ministries, a dynamic middle school and high school youth ministry program, and many spiritual growth opportunities for adults. We are a congregation that challenges our members to serve others as Jesus did. Our ministry of serving includes a food pantry, Habitat for Humanity builds, support of The Road Home (a program for homeless families) and many, many other outreach ministries.

If you would like to be a part of a vital, exciting, growing congregation that proclaims the grace of God through Jesus Christ and makes a difference in the lives of many people, we invite you to join us as we worship,grow, and serve together through this place we call Good Shepherd!"

This website is pretty much like all the other WELS websites in their content, but there is an actual Gospel proclamation in that opening paragraph. There is little difference in the substance. Oh, one difference I didn't point out....this church is ELCA. ;)

Anonymous said...

Friends,

Just to play devil's advocate... or maybe simply to add some balance... I ask a question which might explain some of this. Do you believe pre-evangelism has merit?

I've mentioned before I live in a district where a lot of outreach takes place, so I've seen churches do "advertising." I've also spoken to some pastors about this. Their contention is that a Law/Gopsel message on a mailing is not effective, because it isn't read. Someone sees a postcard with a religious message in their mailbox and it goes straight into the wastebasket. These pastors would maintain that unless the witnessing is done face-to-face, it bears little chance of bearing fruit. Witnessing by postcard is perceived as pointless.

What a mailing CAN do is the normal task of mailings -- invite. And so you invite someone to, say, and Easter service. You mention that it will have the most important message people need to hear... and, yes... a nice breakfast... and, yes... something for the kids. That's marketing. No denying it. But if it gets people to an Easter service where they THEN hear Law and Gospel... and at that service they sign a guest register which allows the pastor or trained evangelists to follow up and do a more personal Law-Gospel presentation in the home of that worship guest... hasn't that postcard served a worthy purpose?

I believe that is called per-evangelism. It's not evangelism, because there is no Gospel shared. But it creates an opportunity to share the Gospel in a manner that isn't perceived as cultish (such as a doorhanger peppered with a religious message might be). And I know pastors (at least wise ones) keep track of this. If they sent out 5,000 postcards with a religious message, and no guests respond as a result... then send out 5,000 postcards inviting someone to a Christmas Eve service, and find that 10 families came as a direct result of that mailing... doesn't it make sense to do the latter?

So, I guess the first example that Pastor Rydecki cites doesn't really bother me. Yes, it's "marketing." But it's not marketing to sell a product, but to try and create opportunities to give away something priceless for free. With others of these examples, my main objection is that they try too hard. The soil-trunk-leaves metaphor is just silly. And other examples cited here seem to be pure emotionalism that wouldn't really even serve a pre-evangelism purpose. It seems to me that some churches are simply parroting what they have found on other church web-sites (perhaps fast growing churches) and believe that echoing pious sounding sentiments will draw others to their church.

I'm just concerned that in identifying the silliness of some of this, we'll throw the baby out with the bathwater. I see nothing wrong with pre-evangelism. Finally, even an invitation from a member to a friend - "Hey, why don't you come to church with me. I think you'll really like it." - is pre-evangelism. That doesn't preach Law or Gospel. Yet we'd probably commend our member for doing so.

My two cents.

Daniel Kastens

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

All of this displays an appalling lack of trust in the message of Law and Gospel, a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit to work through His appointed Means, to work in the hearts of unbelievers as He wills, to draw them into relationship with Christ and into Fellowship with other believers within His Body. Rather, passed off as “outreach” or “evangelism,” these types of marketing ploys all display a confidence in man’s ability to draw a crowd: Fine, if one is trying to fill a department store; Repulsive, if Christ’s congregation has resorted to greeting unbelievers with this type of message, rather than the message that is truly needful.

All of this is thus also demonstrative of an appalling lack of Christian Stewardship. Assuming a congregation’s resources are limited, those resources, in these cases, are put to use disseminating a message, not about Christ, nor of His life and work on behalf of all men, nor of His promises to all mankind, but a message about the congregation, and how the congregation can meet man’s needs. As a representation of the congregation’s message and purpose for existence, Christ is not central in these public proclamations. In many of them, Christ is not even in view. Instead, the organization is central. The organization, not Christ, is on display. Instead of expending its limited resources to consistently preach Christ “crucified and resurrected,” as Scott (above) so aptly puts it, the organization has taken God’s gifts of time, talent and treasure, and expended them on itself. Given a portion of their Master’s wealth, such stewards have failed to “invest” it in the Master’s interest, preferring its own interest instead.

No Law. No Gospel. No Christ. Only man, his interests, and his effort. This is not how Lutherans ought to be doing "outreach."

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Daniel,

I posted my comments, above, before seeing your note. This “thing” that modern Evangelicals call "pre-evangelism" doesn't appear in the Bible that I am aware of, nor is not part of God's command to the Christian or to the Church. It is a pure modern invention – I see no biblical defense for it, certainly no defense for abrogating the clear commands to “preach Christ” in favor of this “thing” called “pre-evangelism.”

What this “thing” does, however, is replace the Bible’s teaching regarding Christian Vocation – how God is at work on behalf of His Bride, the Church, in and through the every-day activities man engages in (i.e., man’s “calling” in life) – and subject it to at least three ideas foreign to the Scriptures and the Confessions: (1) that life is separated into “sacred” God-glorifying, Kingdom-building works, and all other "secular" works, i.e., the rather mundane activities common in everyone’s life; (2) that a life of meaning is a life of "sacred" works, and that Christians ought to pursue this type of meaning, or purpose, in their lives; (3) that the congregation, as a "sacred" entity, exists and survives by organizing and deploying these “sacred” works in the community and abroad.

These ideas have been imported from modern, Arminian Evangelicalism, which is full of an unnatural and anxious desire to alter the will of man in favor of a decision for Christ. And these ideas are wrong. The fact is, the entirety of the Christian’s life, as he “does his work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,” is sacred – not only the work of a pastor, but the daily work of the merchant, the baker, the cobbler and the milkmaid, done with heart of love and gratitude for Christ and His work on behalf of all men, is work that glorifies God, is work full of meaning, is work through which God works to build His Kingdom. God is always Providentially working for the benefit of His Bride, the Church. As God works in Creation through the Laws of Nature, so God also works in the affairs of man through vocation – in each case, again, for the benefit of His Church. Man is not charged with extracting the “God-glorifying, Kingdom-building” nature of Christian life, to organize and manage “sacred acts” from within the congregation while discarding the rest. No, the congregation preaches Christ, and each Christian, with a heart full of fear and love for God, is released into the community to perform in his respective callings. Through this, God does well-enough building His own Church.

A congregation that postpones a preachment of Law and Gospel in favor of this “thing” called “pre-evangelism,” has fallen under the spell of anxious, arminian evangelicalism. Such a congregation fails, utterly, to realize that, in bring that person into contact with His Church, God has already done the necessary “pre-evangelism,” has already worked in Creation and in the affairs of men to create a situation where that person is communicating with Christ’s Representative. But what does this Representative do? Does he preach the Word, as he is charged? Does he act as a faithful steward? No, he has better ideas. He thinks “pre-evangelism” is better than real evangelism, is more proper, more salutary, more edifying than Christ and His promises. What was it that the Master called the unfaithful steward, the one who hid God’s treasure? “Thou wicked and slothful servant.”

I suppose I could go on-and-on, but, my vocation beckons – I have clients to attend to. Others are more adept at discussing this sort of thing anyway, and can pick this up, if necessary.

My Thoughts,

Douglas

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lindee, as I read this discussion thread I was hoping someone would bring up the doctrine of vocation. I've come to believe that congregational evangelism committees and outreach events (and so on) actually do more harm than good because they destroy the understanding of Christian vocation.

The Christian Church survived for almost two thousand years without evangelism committees and outreach events. It's almost absurd to think about St. Paul hosting some community carnival or Luther using his evenings to go to evangelism committee meetings.

So how did the Church survive and even thrive without such things? Much of it has to do with Christians simply and faithfully carrying out their vocations. When Christians live good lives, other people notice. Other people wonder. Other people ask. This leads to perfect opportunities for Christians to explain the reason for the hope that they have.

A focus on vocation also removes a huge burden from many laypeople. There are many people who simply do not have the abilities or gifts to go knock on doors and talk to strangers--and they are made to feel guilty because of it, as if they aren't truly serving the Lord. What a joy it is when such people realize that they can serve God equally well simply by being a good and faithful plumber or engineer or mom and being ready to share the good news when the opportunities present themselves.

Besides, if we want to talk statistics, there are many studies and surveys which prove that congregational outreach efforts expend tons of time and money and simply don't work. The vast majority of people who start coming to church, come not because of some community carnival or some stranger knocking on the door, but because their friend or neighbor or coworker shared the good news with them and invited them to come.

It's almost as if God knew what he was doing when he came up with this vocation thing. Maybe we should simply trust him, rather than trusting in committees and events.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Daniel,

Just to add a bit to Douglas' and Adam's excellent comments...

You wrote, "Their contention is that a Law/Gopsel message on a mailing is not effective, because it isn't read. Someone sees a postcard with a religious message in their mailbox and it goes straight into the wastebasket."

If the postcard isn't read, how does anyone receive the postcard and know that there's an Easter service with a yummy breakfast before or after?

If they mean that a long, wordy treatise on doctrine isn't read, then they may well be right. But a short invitation itself does not have to be devoid of truth and honesty.

The question is, to what are we inviting people? To an event that will cater to the old man or to a proclamation of God's truth? Granted, an unbeliever only has an old man, but that does not mean that the old man must be coaxed into falling into this "trap" where we actually mean to kill him (if only he knew...).

I've heard it said, "No unbeliever goes to church for the right reasons." I used to believe that. Now I see the error in it. True, no unbeliever goes to church out of love for Christ. But some go because their conscience convicts them and tells them there is a God and they've offended him, and they'd better find out who he is before it's too late.

Is that a "wrong reason" for going to church? Absolutely not. In fact, those are precisely the unbelievers whom the Lord has prepared to hear his Law and Gospel.

Now what? Shall we, instead of honestly portraying what the Church has to offer, persuade them to come in for other, non-spiritual reasons? Then we are promoting ourselves, not Christ. This idea that we should somehow "trick" people into exposing themselves to the Means of Grace (Ha! They fell for it! They came for breakfast and exciting, upbeat music, but mixed in with all that we're going to give them Jesus! Surprise!) is really deceptive and dishonest.

The idea that we shouldn't "pepper" our mailings with religious messages (i.e., the Word of God and the proclamation of Christ) because the world will perceive it as "cultish" is really scary. I don't know where that comes from. Should we be content to let the cults promote their doctrine freely while we shrink back from presenting doctrine for fear of appearing "cultish," relying instead on what a friendly bunch of people we have in our congregation? May this never be.

Anonymous said...

"Should we be content to let the cults promote their doctrine freely while we shrink back from presenting doctrine for fear of appearing 'cultish,' relying instead on what a friendly bunch of people we have in our congregation?"

The funny thing is, though, that cults usually don't present their doctrine to the outside world. They typically attract weak-minded or vulnerable people through a friendly and charismatic leader, only to reveal their doctrine once someone has been initiated into the cult, if at all.

To be honest, that actually sounds like typical church growth methodology: draw people in with a friendly, charismatic pastor, and then get around to teaching doctrine sometime later, if at all.

Makes you think.

Mr. Adam Peeler

TShinnick said...

Rev. Rydecki,
You describe an unregenerate person coming to church because he has become contrite. You say that this person is coming to church for the right reason. Contrition can, indeed, lead a person to come to a church to hear the Word of God. Contrition has also led a person to hang himself. Are we to say that Judas hung himself "for the right reasons"? Of course not. Judas and all other unbeliever are hostile to God and can do nothing to please him. The contrite person that you've described is coming into church to satisfy the demands of his own opinio legis. At the bottom of it all, to suggest that unbelievers can go to church for the right reason is to deny original sin.

I am positive that you understand original sin properly. However, what you have posted sells short the total depravity of man. I pray that you take this comment in the kindest possible way and give some additional thought to what you have written above.

In Christ,
Tyler Shinnick

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Y'all -

There's another term for "pre-evangelism." It's called "bait and switch," and in many states it's illegal!

And it should be missing from any confessional Lutheran church!

Pastor Spencer

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Tyler, I have not described godly contrition, but rather the effect of the God-given conscience, the testimony he has written into the hearts of all men (Romans 2:14-15). This is not to say that a pricked conscience regenerates a person or makes his/her attendance at church acceptable to God. The unregenerate do not approach God in faith. They know they have a problem, but they do not realize how serious their problem is. Neither do they know who the Doctor is who can cure them, or how He can cure them, or if He will.

But if a man recognizes that he is sick - even though he does not recognize the depth of his sickness - that's a good reason to seek a doctor. On his own, he would never find the right Doctor or trust in his cure. The unbeliever flails about in the darkness. But look! This church is claiming to have a Doctor! Maybe I'll go and see...

Your analogy to Judas doesn't make sense. If Judas recognizes that he is sick, that's not a right reason to hang himself. That's pure foolishness. It is a right reason to seek the One whom he knows to be the Great Physician, but in his wickedness, he rejects the Cure.

So yes, Tyler, an unbeliever can go to church for the right reason - in search of a doctor for the disease his conscience keeps nagging him about, and try as he might, he cannot seem to silence that voice. The fact that he hears the voice of his conscience does not make him less depraved or less corrupt by original sin.

John said...

Let me just bounce this off you.
You say that "an unbeliever..in search of a doctor for the disease his conscience keeps nagging him about..." is going to church for the right reason.
Is it safe to say that she goes to church because she feels bad and doesn't know why. It's a well known fact that a pastor will make her feel better. So she goes, because she wants to hear how good she is.
Either way, it's still a bait and switch by your definition. It's deceptive because you let her preconceived notions about what a church should do lead her to your church. She didn't come because she wanted law and gospel. She came because she saw a pastor on TV who always had some humanist answer that seemed to solve everything. She didn't want the law and gospel, she wanted a band-aid.
However, an unbeliever who goes to church to learn English is going to church for the wrong reason.
Did the 10 ten lepers want forgiveness of sin? Probably, they just didn't know it. Is that why they went to Jesus? No. They went to be healed.
Did Jesus only heal the one who would be grateful? No. He healed all 10, knowing full well that 90% of them didn't care for his message and only wanted the earthly goodies.
By your definition that's the right reason.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding. I'm looking for clarification here.
John Raasch

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

No doubt many who approached Jesus only for physical healing ended up with much more than they bargained for.

The point is that Jesus didn't promote himself as a healer or as a bread provider. He did those things, but that was never his message. "Come to 422 Straight Street for healing today!" "Hungry? Step right up!" He was who he was - a preacher of a message not His own, but given to Him by the One who sent Him, a message that was accompanied by signs and wonders, and also with great compassion.

Jesus never hid his message, never pretended to be anything other than what he was - the One sent by God to help sinners. The fact that some failed to recognize sin as their chief problem does not change the fact that some came to Him very aware of their problem of sin, like the tax collectors and women of ill repute. The fact that some came to him unwilling to abandon their own righteousness (like the Rich Young Man) does not change the fact that some came to Him to be taught by Him (like Nicodemus), although His teaching was not at all what they expected.

Can an unbeliever know he deserves condemnation from the "unknown God"? Yes. Can an unbeliever be scared to face eternity, especially when confronted with his own mortality? Yes. Is that a right reason to seek help at a church that claims to have a remedy - even though the unbeliever neither knows nor believes yet in the remedy? Yes. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that our every contact with unbelievers or the world at large must be a preachment of the Law? Is it wrong to greet someone with "Hello" because that lacks a specific preaching of Law and Gospel? Is it wrong to exchange pleasantries with visitors before worship, when those words could be used instead to proclaim the saving truth? Or is one still being faithful when they greet them and trust the message in the liturgy, readings and sermon will be the Law and Gospel medicine this person needs? Is it ever appropriate to sooth a visitors fear of dressing incorrectly or explain a lesser point, like how to use the hymnal or what is expected at the offering?

And what about your website? For all its promotion of Biblically sound practice and teaching and for all the talk about the Law and Gospel, does a visitor to this site have the Law and the Gospel preached/proclaimed to them? Is that a bad thing? Or is there a place for a website that contends for the truth as it's particular purpose?

I guess what I'm saying is instead of mocking other websites and brochures why not have a discussion about what a mailing should say? What's right, what's wrong and what's "permissible" but weak. And the reasons why explained from Scripture. What is the role a church website?

Also, how many who posted a least favorite blurb, contacted the "offending" party and entered into a dialogue with them, seeking to build up and correct a brother? The letter preceding this article is a great example of engaging a brother over a troubling practice--we each need more of that.


Pastor Albert Meier

Anonymous said...

I'd like to respond to a few of Pastor Meier's statements:

"Does this mean that our every contact with unbelievers or the world at large must be a preachment of the Law?"

I haven't seen anyone say anything close to this in this entire line of discussion. Beginning your statement with a strawman does nobody any good.

"Is it wrong to greet someone with "Hello" because that lacks a specific preaching of Law and Gospel? Is it wrong..."

Again, you're building strawmen that distract completely form the point. Is it wrong to say "hello" to someone? Of course not, who would ever say that? Is it wrong for churches to spend their time and money publishing things that give people a faulty idea of what the Church is all about? Yes. You're arguing apples and oranges here.

"I guess what I'm saying is instead of mocking other websites and brochures..."

Who is mocking anything here? I haven't sensed any mockery at all. People have simply posted publicly what churches have already publicly published themselves.

"how many who posted a least favorite blurb, contacted the 'offending' party and entered into a dialogue with them"

I'm sorry, but I am growing extremely weary of this constant abuse of Matthew 18 in the WELS. Public sin demands public rebuke. In my opinion, these blurbs shouldn't have been posted anonymously, they should have been published with the congregations' names attached.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I asked that names not be included in this thread because the point isn't to deal with this or that congregation. (Obviously, as some have pointed out, the examples can easily be identified if one wishes to do so.)

Not every discussion has to be elevated to the level of denouncing this or that person for sin. The purpose in this case is to discuss the issues involved using real-life examples. We should be able to have a discussion using public examples without contacting anyone for permission to discuss what they've already made public.

This allergic reaction we seem to have to criticism is not healthy.

TShinnick said...

Both Judas and the pricked sinner walking into a church are searching for relief. The pricked unregenerate that walks into a WELS church and the pricked unregenerate that walks into mosque are both flailing around in darkness seeking an unknown remedy for the sickness. If you stick to your statement that this person walking into a church does so for the right reason, would you not also have to say that the same sort of person walking into a mosque does so for the right reason? I can't buy that.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Tyler, I don't want to argue back and forth with you over the phrase "right reason." Your logic escapes me. You're missing the whole point. I'm not trying to sell you anything, so I don't expect you to buy anything.

I'll go ahead and "stick to my statement," and if you want to say that a troubled soul enters a mosque searching for a solution for his guilt and shame because it's promised to him there, I can't call that a wrong reason to enter the mosque. The fact that he won't find the true God there doesn't change the fact that he recognized a spiritual need in himself and went where people promised him a solution.

Anonymous said...

"If you stick to your statement that this person walking into a church does so for the right reason, would you not also have to say that the same sort of person walking into a mosque does so for the right reason?"

Do they do it for the right reason? Yes. Have the found the right solution? No, but that doesn't negate the fact that the person was feeling rightly that he had a serious problem.

The point, I think, is that when our churches reach out to the community, they should acknowledge the prick of the natural law, not ignore it or even soothe it with talk of coffee and casualness.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

After posting the previous comment, I saw that Pastor Rydecki had already answered Tyler's point. My apologies for the repetition.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

And now for a positive example. The following is from the home page of my church's web site.

The Bible is clear. We see it in our lives. Things are not right. Things are not right between us and God. Things are not right even between us and each other. Things are not right even in our own view of ourselves very often. All this is the result of sin.

Yet ***** Lutheran Church teaches us that from beginning to end, Jesus did it all...

He died for you.
He forgives your sins.
Through God-given faith He saves you.
Through God-given faith He will take you to eternal life in heaven, a home free of all troubles.

***** Lutheran Church emphasizes...

Christ-centered worship.
The loving and powerful work of God in his Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Bible Study appropriate for all ages.
Personal pastoral care.
Encouragement in our God-given, individual callings.

Anonymous said...

Hi, guys. This is Daniel again.

I appreciate the discussion. It needs to be had. I also appreciate the discussion on vocation. Our church body has looked at that doctrine more closely in recent years, it seems - almost "rediscovered" it. Refreshing.

But I sense a false antithesis when it is stated that outreach/evangelism committees are unnecessary because of the doctrine of vocation. Finally, that doctrine doesn't speak JUST to Christians acting as part of the universal priesthood. I forget how Luther's quote goes - something about God feeding the people through the milk maiden. And yet, giving someone milk doesn't change their eternity, unless it's the spiritual milk Peter encourages his readers to crave. So the milk maiden will, as part of her vocation, SPEAK the Word to those whom God has brought in her circle of influence.

But I'm not how her doing so then logically means we would not benefit from an outreach/evangelism committee. Part of what the pastor does is train people for personal outreach - give people simple Bible passages to explain God's plan of salvation; show people the Great Exchange diagram, which can be helpful; even helping people understand how to turn conversations from worldly topics (I have cancer) to spiritual ones (here's why I'm not afraid of it). The sermon doesn't seem like the best venue for that. The sermon is obviously where the content of what we believe (and therefore, what we speak - 2 Corinthians 4:13) is driven home week after week. It certainly is the place where a pastor can, at times, remind his followers of the privilege we have as part of the universal priesthood - to speak the Word to others. But training is something that seems best done in a separate class. The "prepare for works of service" in Ephesians 4 can't JUST be the sermon, can it? And if he has that -- a class where he trains people how to witness in their private lives (as part of their vocation) he has an evangelism program, whether he calls it such or not. So, I don't quite follow the logic that some have shown in saying they didn't have this in the early church. They might not have called it as such, but I guess I don't expect the Scripture to lay down EVERY DETAIL of ministry.

Moreover, have I understood some to say that sending out invitations to things like Christmas and Easter is unwise or wrong? Adam seemed to suggest they were pointless. That has not been my experience. I'm most familiar with the WELS in the Atlanta area. I know most of those churches send out postcards (often the same one). It contains a simple spiritual message. I believe this year it's "No Broken Promises. Christ is Risen." That's not really a Law/Gospel presentation. It's what advertisers would call a teaser - a glimpse of what you will hear. On the back, a description is given that includes things like brunch, activities for the childen, etc. These churches will report they get a LOT of visitors to come to these services, where they then get to hear the Gospel on the most glorious possible day - the Resurrection of Our Lord. These are churches which tend to confirm 20+ adults a year. Now, someone might accuse me of church growth for pointing that out! :) I simply would suggest it's healthy to ask, "Why? Why would they be adding that many souls annually?" Is it that the people of Atlanta have hearts that aren't quite as hard as the rest of the world. I can testify, that is far from true! Is it that maybe they've found a healthy balance between teaching the doctrine of the vocation, explaining that one's vocation includes opportunities to witness in one's private life AND having an appropriate amount of programed outreach through a committee?

(to be continued)

Anonymous said...

(continued from previous)

To make arguments on how to conduct ministry based on the early church or even Luther's church is solid. Scripture tells us to remember the ways of our spiritual forefathers. To then think that what is wise is to mimic them in everything is nonsensical. There are practices of the early church we could not in good conscience to today. (Didn't adults who were baptized strip down at least to their undergarments?) Nor did the early church have all the God-given tools available to them. We use hymnals though the early church did not. Why then not mass-mailings, if they serve the same purpose as a hymnal -- to help the cause of the Gospel?

Pastor Rydecki, a quick response to a comment you made. I was certainly not suggesting printed material which contained a religious message was cultish. I was saying it could be perceived as such. I remember going canvassing in my church in Minnesota. We handed out a trifold brochure that contained a very solid exposition of Law and Gospel. It was very lengthy. Tiny print. An odd almgamation of clipart. It was printed in black and white and run off on green paper. The pastor seemed to think it was a good way to witness, because it contained the truth. Sure. But I couldn't imagine anyone reading it. It looked like something the out-of-the-garage 7th Day Adventists down the road would produce. Imagine I am lost. I toss that out. To my mind, these are "crazy fanatics." Compare that to a glossy postcard, full color, with a catchy picture and a teaser - "Promises Kept. Christ has Risen." What caught my attention was not that it contains a deep exposition of the Word. (How would I know that at a glance!) But because it's well done. Now I look on the back. It explains something about learning of God's promise of grace. As you mention, as someone who is lost, my conscience has been bothering me. I wonder, "Is this a potential solution?" I read that after worship, they'll have some activities for my kids. Well, I love my kids, so that doesn't sound to bad either. Maybe... maybe... I'll give this a try.

In Atlanta, it has been proven many, many do. And many end up joining those churches as a result of such efforts.

If anyone finds anything wrong with that -- claims it's Church Growth, bait and switch, not trusting the Means - I don't know what else to say.

Your friend in Christ,
Daniel

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

I'm not sure you grasp the full implications of the doctrine of vocation. Christians are able to serve God in all of their various callings in life. This means that they will also naturally share the gospel in all of their various callings as the opportunity presents itself.

This means that we don't need to invent new vocations for people (door-knocker) to share the gospel with people. It's much better and more natural for someone simply to be a good and faithful employee, and then, when an opportunity arises, to share the gospel with fellow workers.

Think, for example, of St. Andrew. When he found the Messiah, he didn't start knocking on random doors, he fulfilled his vocation as a brother and went to tell Simon.

As I said, I can provide studies and surveys that show that people are far, far more likely to respond when a friend invites them to church than when a stranger at the door or a flier in the mail does.

Creating church boards and committees only gives the impression that evangelism is something the church does artificially, not something that Christians do naturally in their vocations.

I say get rid of all the boards and committees and events and mailings, and simply teach and encourage people to share the gospel in their vocations. Save the church some money, save the pastor some time, save the people some guilt. If we did that, I think we would be amazed at what might happen.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Daniel, I'm not suggesting we become hypercritical of these attempts to invite people to church. A simple message of "Promises Kept. Christ has Risen." is a far cry better than the original example I gave at the top of this post, because it's not promoting us. It's promoting Christ - whether in many words or in few.

I understand and sympathize with wanting to have postcards, etc., that are well-done (full color, catchy, etc.). And I would never suggest that we aim for mediocrity or low-quality materials. You do what you can with what the Lord has given you. That's part of vocation, too.

But something about it still nags at me. "He chose the foolish things of the world in order to shame the wise."

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Someone asked me recently about the role of church-schools in evangelism. For example, at my church, we aren't big enough to support a Lutheran Elementary School, but we do have a small preschool program.

Much could be said about the pros and cons of using a school for outreach. Historically, our churches have supported schools for the educational benefit of our member children. The next step was opening up our schools to a small percentage of non-member children. Now, some schools are run primarily as outreach tools to attract non-member families, with member children in the minority.

If a Lutheran school has the conscious goal of teaching Lutheran theology to the children enrolled there so as to bring them into the congregation, then the Great Commission is being fulfilled, whether the children are member children or non-member children. As we carry out the Great Commission with some non-member children, we may also have the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to their families. All of that is good and well.

At my church's preschool, we make the Bible lesson central. All our parents receive a handbook that presents chief articles of the Lutheran faith. The children take several "field trips" to the church to learn about the baptismal font and the paraments, the altar, etc. We make much of our Lutheran faith, even at the risk of "turning off" some who are not interested in the spiritual aspect of their child's education.

So as long as a church supports a school that is intentionally and transparently Lutheran (as opposed to purely secular-focused or presenting a watered down, generic form of Christianity), I think the school can serve as an extension of the ministry of the church for both members and non-members. Is that "outreach"? Or is it "inreach"? I don't know, the terms almost don't seem useful anymore. Preach the Word! And God will gather his elect.

But when things get turned around and the church becomes an extension of the ministry of the school, you run into all sorts of problems.

Anonymous said...

On my church bulletin and website:

What We Believe...

Motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ _______ Lutheran exists to teach the whole counsel of God. Using Word and Sacraments, we will seek to nurture the faith and life of our members, as well as share God’s message with our entire community and (through the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) with the world.

____________ Lutheran Church was organized in ____ so that with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it might strengthen the faith of its members and reach out into the community and the world. To carry out this purpose we believe and teach –

that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and the only foundation for Christian faith and life;
that the Lord God revealed in the Bible (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) is the true and living God;
that all people have sinned against His holy will, fall short of His glory, and therefore deserve to be condemned eternally;
that Jesus Christ came into the world to deliver all people from the guilt and power of sin and that he lived and died and rose again as the perfect and only Substitute;
that through faith created by the Holy Spirit the benefits of Christ’s work are received personally;
that on the last day Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead and will take all those who trust in him into eternal life.

We join in that confession with over 1,200 congregations of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and with them carry on a world-wide ministry.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Here are some words of Luther from a sermon on Quinquagesima Sunday (Luke 18:31-43 - Jesus heals a blind beggar). Notice how he paints the spiritual picture of the blind man who recognizes his need and sighs for grace.

"This blind man represents the spiritually blind, the state of every man born of Adam, who neither sees nor knows the kingdom of God; but it is of grace that he feels and knows his blindness and would gladly be delivered from it. They are saintly sinners who feel their faults and sigh for grace. But he sits by the wayside and begs, that is, he sits among the teachers of the law and desires help; but it is begging, with works he must appear blue and help himself. The people pass him by and let him sit, that is the people of the law make a great noise and are heard among the teachers of good works, they go before Christ and Christ follows them. But when he heard Christ, that is, when a heart hears the Gospel of faith, it calls and cries, and has no rest until it comes to Christ."

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